Little Malcolm And His Struggle Against The Eunuchs**** (Southwark Playhouse)

Posted: July 12, 2015 in Theatre

Little-Malcolm-Web-700x455This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

We are lucky to be in the middle of a terrific decade for 50th Anniversary revivals, with producers being given an excuse to mine the rich seam of 1960s drama. David Halliwell’s satire first appeared in 1965 when the new wave of realism on the British stage was well established and exciting new works, pushing the boundaries of theatre, were emerging. However, time moves on and there is a risk that revivals of old works will appear as little more than strolls down Memory Lane. Halliwell’s play escapes that charge due to the fact the neither of the dual targets of its satire – rebellious students and brutal dictators – have ever gone far away in the course of the last half century. Halliwell reveals both the vigour of youthful dreams and their ultimate emptiness and many of his messages must resonate more loudly now than when the play was written. Kicked out of a Huddersfield art school, Malcolm Scrawdyke plots his revenge against the oppressive head master by forming the Party of Dynamic Erection. He has no political agenda, Lenin and Mussolini having equal status as his role models. His objective is power for its own sake, to be used and abused as he chooses and all dissenters will be labeled “eunuchs”. Daniel Easton’s Malcolm, bearded and dressed throughout in a Winter trench coat to counter the cold of his unheated flat in a freezing January, appears to his cohorts as a confident, quick-thinking and charismatic leader. He proves to be a fierce orator during rehearsals of rallies, yet Halliwell inserts several Hamlet-style soliloquies during which Malcolm reveals directly to the audience his inner doubts and sexual inadequacies. Easton projects both sides of the character with impressive ease. Jemima Robinson’s excellent set is a chaotic student flat, furnished sparsely with a wooden table and chairs, a step ladder and a record player on which vinyl jazz albums are played, thereby inspiring the feel of a 60s B film. As the revolutionary movement gains momentum, brightly coloured flags and banners are added, contrasting with the backdrop of a white-on-black sketch of a Northern industrial landscape, which suggests that LS Lowry has chalked on a school blackboard. Much of the comedy arises from Halliwell’s sharp ear for the language of everyday life and from his skill in puncturing his characters’ delusions with swift injections of reality. Clive Judd’s fast-paced, high energy production makes the near three hours running time pass quickly. He choreographs ensemble scenes with precision and imagination, bringing out top class performances from the entire company. Wick (Laurie Jamieson) is drawn into the fold by Malcolm’s flattery, being assured that he has gifts as an artist that are seen “once in every five generations”, and the slow thinking man of little words Irwin (Barney McElholm) follows. Ann (Rochenda Sandall) is the object of Malcolm’s lust, but she is well-grounded and sees through all his swagger, paying a heavy price for her temerity. Some of the most poignant comic moments arise from the character of the nerdy, self- deluded and “disputatous” Dennis Charles Nipple (Scott Arthur), who appears as if a bespectacled prototype hoody. Malcolm recruits him and then, in a scene reminiscent of school playground bullying, he sits imperiously on a makeshift throne and expels him cruelly. In the final stages, comedy is jettisoned as the play hints at the chilling consequences of being lured into following false idols and warped ideologies. Now, this revival assumes urgent modern relevance and any suggestion that Halliwell’s satire has passed its sell-by date is laid firmly to rest.

Performance date: 10 July 2015

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